Rendering of installation by artist vanessa german
Toggle caption Photo by Monument Lab

Salamishah Tillet Curates Historic National Mall Exhibition Opening August 18

Rutgers-Newark professor Salamishah Tillet is co-curator of the first outdoor exhibition on Washington D.C.’s National Mall, which features stories untold by the Mall’s existing monuments. The exhibition opens August 18.

Called Pulling Together: Beyond Granite, the exhibition adds six new prototype monuments to the Mall, expanding upon the people and milestones already honored. On view until September 18th, it is the first time the National Mall has been the site of a curated outdoor exhibition.

Beyond Granite will present a dynamic new series of installations designed to create a more inclusive, equitable, and representative commemorative landscape on the National Mall,’’ according to the Trust for the National Mall, which is presenting the exhibition with the National Capital Planning Commission and the National Park Service.

Tillet, who won a Pulitzer-Prize for criticism in 2022, co-curated the exhibition with Paul Farber for Monument Lab, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit public art and history studio. She is a Professor of Africana Studies and Creative Writing at the School of Arts and Sciences-Newark (SASN) and Executive Director of Express Newark, a socially-engaged center for art and design supported by Rutgers-Newark. She is also the faculty founder of New Arts Justice, a public arts initiative at Rutgers-Newark. 

This is the second time Tillet and Farber have curated together. In 2019, they curated A Call To Peace in Express Newark and Military Park and featured new works by artists Manuel Acevedo, Chakaia Booker, Sonya Clark, and Jamel Shabazz. Each artist, and visitor to the exhibition, was asked the central prompt: What is a timely monument for the City of Newark today? Two years later, Tillet and Farber served on the jury that selected Nina Cooke John’s Harriet Tubman monument, Shadow of Face which was unveiled earlier this year.  

The National Mall is a space made up of our nation’s most iconic monuments and a gathering site at which everyday citizens have voiced their dissent and their democratic ideals. So, we tried to hold those two strands together. 

On the National Mall, the installations on display answer the central curatorial prompt: What stories remain untold on the National Mall? The work from participating artists– Derrick Adams, Tiffany Chung, Ashon T. Crawley, vanessa german, Paul Ramirez Jonas, and Wendy Red Star– elevates the history and experiences of Native Americans, Vietnamese immigrants, African Americans, the LGBTQ community and others. The pieces are situated in dialogue with the Mall’s existing monuments.

Tillet and Farber were inspired to create the exhibition by historic events that have been held on the Mall but were never permanently commemorated, such as the 1963 March on Washington and the exhibition of the AIDS memorial quilt in 1987.

The title is a reference to Black opera singer Marian Anderson’s 1939 Easter Sunday performance at the Lincoln Memorial, which drew an audience of 75,000. The concert was held during segregation, after she was prohibited from performing at nearby Constitution Hall.

Civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune described the event as  “a story of hope for tomorrow–a story of triumph–a story of pulling together, a story of splendor and real democracy.’’

“The National Mall is the most visited-park in the country so it is an extraordinary honor to be able to curate this space,” Tillet said. “It is also space made up of our nation’s most iconic monuments and a gathering site at which everyday citizens have voiced their dissent and their democratic ideals. So, we tried to hold those two strands together by showing how temporary monuments can add to our understanding of American history, which is also reflecting back to us, our diversity, complexity, and beauty as a nation, and a people.” 

The Beyond Granite exhibition includes an installation by artist vanessa german, commemorating the Marian Anderson concert with an image of Anderson singing, her figure rising above a photo of Black audience members who attended that day. The piece will stand outside the Lincoln Memorial.